FORT HOOD — Jurors determined Friday that Maj. Nidal Hasan is a murderer, but on Monday they learned the devastation Hasan wrought on the families of the 13 people killed during the Fort Hood shooting.
“I feel dead, yet alive,” said Shoua Her, the widow of Pfc. Kham Xiong. “He was my other half, my best friend, my husband, the father of my children.”
Widows, mothers, son, father testify
One by one, five widows, two mothers, a son and a father testified about the loss of their family member. Each spoke of their experiences on Nov. 5, 2009 — the day they found out their loved one had been killed in a mass shooting.
For some, the hole left in their lives led to severe depression. One told the court she had attempted suicide more than once. Another said her husband’s death had caused her daughter to require a stay in a mental institution. A third said his daughter’s death was killing him slowly.
The emotional testimony came in the first day of Hasan’s sentencing trial with witnesses called to demonstrate how the shooting impacted their lives.
The court heard 12 of an expected 19 witnesses from the prosecution before recessing early. Little explanation was given for the early break, with the lead prosecutor telling spectators it was the result of “logistics.”
Hasan showed little reaction though the day’s testimony, staring stoically at family pictures of his victims displayed for the jury. However, Hasan appeared to bow his head and close his eyes during some of the most emotional testimony.
The jury of 13 Army officers unanimously found Hasan guilty of 13 counts of premeditated murder Friday. They will decide this week whether Hasan deserves life in prison or the death penalty. To sentence him to death, their verdict, which could come later this week, must be unanimous.
Kept cellphone message
Angela Rivera, widow of Maj. Libardo E. Caraveo, said she refused to turn off her husband’s cellphone for more than three years after his death. Several of Caraveo’s family would occasionally call the phone to hear his voice mail message.
“We called to get comfort by just hearing his voice,” Rivera said.
But about three months ago, an unexpected change from the phone’s carrier erased the message. Rivera cried as she told the court their young son would now have nothing to remember his father’s voice.
As each family member gave their account of Nov. 5, 2009, the one commonality was the late-night visit they received from an Army chaplain to notify each of their husband or son’s death.
Gale Hunt, the mother of Spc. Jason D. Hunt, said that when the soldiers rang her door, she opened the door and backed into a living room. She sat on the couch, dialed her daughter, told her soldiers were here and then laid the phone on the table with the speaker phone activated.
The soldiers then notified her Spc. Hunt was killed in the shooting. Gale Hunt said she could hear her daughter screaming on the other end of the line.
“I just cried for four hours, then I cleaned for two weeks,” she said. “I don’t know why.”
Beyond family impact, the jury saw the physical toll taken upon shooting victims. The most severely injured shooting victim, Staff Sgt. Patrick Ziegler, began the day’s testimony.
Jurors watched as Zeigler walked with a labored limp in front of the jury box. His shortly cropped military haircut betrayed extensive scarring from more than 10 surgeries to his head.
About 20 percent of the soldier’s brain had been removed since the shooting, a result of four gunshot wounds, including one to the head. His left arm and left leg are paralyzed. Yet Zeigler walked unassisted to the witness box, despite doctors’ expectations that he would either die or live out his life in a vegetative state from the injuries.
Zeigler was at the Soldier Readiness Processing Center on Nov. 5, 2009, for routine medical checkups prior to his transfer to Fort Benning, Ga., for Officer Candidate School when the shooting occurred.
His extensive injuries prevented him from attending the school, and he will soon be medically discharged at his current rank. Though he said he is hopeful for the remainder of his life, “eventually I will succumb to my wounds. I won’t be able to function.”
Zeigler said he maintains the cognitive functions of a ninth- or 10th-grader. His attitude also has changed.
“It’s affected all of my relationships, every facet of my personality” he said. “I’m a lot angrier and a lot darker.”
Hasan sentencing day one: Who testified
- Staff Sgt. Patrick Ziegler — Shot in the head during shooting, leading to the removal of 20 percent of his brain along with paralysis in his left hand and left foot.
- Angela Rivera — Widow of Maj. Libardo E. Caraveo.
- Eduardo Caraveo — Son of Maj. Libardo E. Caraveo.
- Juan Velez — Father of Pvt. Francheska Velez.
- 1st Sgt. James Cox — Supervisor of Francheska Velez.
- Shoua Her — Widow of Pfc. Kham Xiong.
- Jennifer Nicole Hunt — Widow of Spc. Jason D. Hunt.
- Gale Hunt — Mother of Spc. Jason D. Hunt.
- Mick Engnehl — Shot twice during shooting, causing paralysis to right arm.
- Cynthia Seager — Widow of Capt. Russell G. Seager.
- Cristi Greene — Widow of Spc. Frederick Z. Greene.
- Karen Nourse — Mother of Spc. Frederick Z. Greene.
Contact Philip Jankowski at email@example.com or (254) 501-7553. Follow him on Twitter at KDHcrime.